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The Day(s) the Music Died

“A long, long time ago, I can still remember how that music used to make me smile.” I was furloughed back in May from my position at a music venue due to the impact that COVID-19 had on the country. The live entertainment industry has been dark since early April. Future events have either been postponed or cancelled. To cope, artists started streaming concerts online, albeit to little success. But why? Don’t we believe in Rock and Roll? Sadly not, when it’s difficult to remember the last album or CD we purchased. Or if we ever complained about the high cost of concert tickets, only to attend free events then download the artists’ music on streaming channels. Paying for a Spotify account doesn’t count… that won’t save your mortal soul.

An eight-and-a-half-minute song released in November of 1971 couldn’t be more relevant today. Don McLean penned the famous song in response to a plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper at a time when the country was in the throes of political chaos, involved in a war that few believed in. Since the song was written more than 10 years after this infamous crash, there must have been some other meaning. McLean explained that America was going in the wrong direction and questioned our country’s moral truths. And the dry levee? Well, that was his way of saying America lacked depth in culture and art. Sound familiar?

“Did you write the book of love?” Surely I did not. OK, let’s dissect that. I fell in love with a woman in Canada well over a year ago. Since this whole pandemic began, I’ve only been able to see her in person once; the closed border loophole permits Canadians to fly to America, so long as they quarantine for 14 days upon their return. Oh, and don’t forget those live video chats! That’s pure romance. Sure, it’s hard. Harder? Try convincing her to move to America in this moment.

“And do you have faith in god above.” I was raised Catholic and my father regularly attends mass (even though it’s a drive-in now and you listen to the sermon via your radio). I haven’t been to church since Christmas, which is typically held in a dusty basement on a folding chair of some sort. I still haven’t been able to correctly recite the Lord’s Prayer they changed on me a few years back. My girlfriend’s prayer was answered on our first date though. No not that she had met the man of her dreams (I later found out I don’t look anything like him); rather, I answered correctly when she asked who I voted for.

McClean never revealed who the characters really were in his song, probably because he wanted us to decide for ourselves. It’s a timeless work of art. Could the avoidable deaths of the Vietnam War be compared to those of the coronavirus? Both moral-turned-political disputes within an unstable country, both causing a nation to seek change.

“And while the king was looking down, the jester stole his thorny crown.” This reminds me of Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands” where he sings “Poor man wanna be rich, Rich man wanna be king. And the King ain’t satisfied till he rules everything.” This basically sums up politics. Sadly, we’ve given into it and lost freedoms along the way. In the 1970’s there wasn’t a health pandemic, only an epidemic of war, power and greed. But it seems we don’t have to travel far to see a similar plague. We can walk the streets and find it amongst us.

“And there we were all in one place. A generation lost in space.” If only Don could have known about social media when he wrote this song, it would have had another eight verses. I’ll be honest, even I get lost in the realm of social media. Is it crazy that the President tweets more than a teenage girl? Yes.

“Oh and as I watched him on the stage, my hands were clenched in fists of rage. No angel born in Hell, could break that Satan’s spell.” Seems like we have our character on stage again these days. But ours dances poorly to the Village People at voter rallies. I’ve never been a person to discuss politics until 2020. It leaves me feeling powerless. Even though I’m unemployed and unable to see my girlfriend in Canada, I’m still blessed with rights. This Tuesday, this’ll be the day I vote.

Black Lives Matters march on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo – photo courtesy @jcdphotography

Written by A Ellis Cairns

A Ellis Cairns

A Ellis Cairns has been living in Buffalo since 2006. Hailing from Pittsburgh, A also lived in Maryland and New Jersey. Graduating from Duquesne University with a BA in Communications, he got an internship with Live Nation the summer before his senior year. Upon graduating, A accepted a full-time position with Live Nation at the Darien Lake Amphitheater. Working in the music industry for over 15 years, A has seen and worked with a variety of artists and performers. In his spare time, A is a concert photographer and board member for the Elmwood Village Association.

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